SPRINGFIELD, MO — The roster the Springfield Lasers drafted in March wasn’t the same roster that played in the season opener July 14. By the time the World TeamTennis Finals rolled around August 4th, that initial roster was long forgotten.
But history won’t forget the 2019 Springfield Lasers. General Manager Paul Nahon was masterful behind the scenes and coach JL de Jager was a maestro in assembling lineups. The result was a 2019 championship win against the New York Empire and back-to-back WTT titles for Springfield.
Nahon thought he’d given de Jager a pretty solid initial lineup to work with this season. Abigail Spears was back from the 2018 WTT championship squad, as was Miomir Kecmanovic. He planned on appearing in four matches as the franchise player before returning to the tour.
The new Lasers in 2019 were 20-year-old Anna Blinkova, veteran Enrique Lopez-Perez and Joe Salisbury, a top-20 doubles player. But Salisbury suffered an injury at Wimbledon and never suited up for Springfield. Instead the team turned to Jean-Julien Rojer, a former Laser and top-15 doubles specialist.
That lineup blistered the league to start the season, winning five in a row to vault to the top of the WTT standings. But then Kecmanovic left the squad and the winning streak turned into a middling midseason. Springfield was 3-3 without Kecmanovic and things didn’t immediately get better when Blinkova and Rojer left to return to the tour with four matches left in the regular season.
But Nahon had a few tricks up his sleeve. He filled those voids with Olga Govortsova and Robert Lindstedt.
Govortsova, another former Laser, is working her way back onto the pro circuit after taking a break to start a family. Lindstedt is a tour veteran with WTT experience. The Lasers lost their first two matches with the new roster, then rallied to win two in a row to end the season and qualify for the WTT Semifinals in Las Vegas.
Springfield’s roster drama wasn’t quite finished yet, however. Lopez-Perez was injured late in the season and did not play in Las Vegas. The Lasers turned to Evan Song, who played for the Vegas Rollers during the regular season, to fill that void.
He filled it admirably. Song was competitive in singles play and unbeaten in doubles as Springfield defeated the San Diego Aviators 21-19 in the semifinals and the New York Empire 20-19 in the finals to send the King Trophy back to Springfield. Lindstedt was named the WTT Finals MVP.
de Jager is more than just a lineup manager. The veteran WTT coach works hard to cultivate a family atmosphere, no matter who is on the roster. The approach, clearly, is working. Blinkova joined the Lasers in Las Vegas for the playoffs, though she did not make an appearance in a match. When Springfield accepted the King Trophy, Rojer made an appearance via FaceTime on Lindstedt’s phone.
Need more evidence that team-building approach works? Consider this: Springfield has now won back-to-back titles despite not having a player earn a season-ending award. Not a rookie of the year, not an MVP, not even coach of the year.
Who knows what roster drama awaits in 2020 as the Lasers take aim on a third consecutive WTT title? One thing is for sure, though, no team is better prepared to handle it than Springfield.